When you divorce and petition the court for custody, you make the best arrangements for your children that you can at the time. The court is guided by the best interests of the children, and those interests, by necessity, change over time.
What that frequently means is that a custody judgment will need to be modified by the court at some future point.
Modifications versus appeals
There is a big difference between filing an appeal and filing a modification. For instance, an appeal must be filed immediately — or very shortly — after a judge renders a decision in a custodial or other contested civil matter.
Appeals must be based on some perceived flaw in the way the court applied the law. In other words, simply because one of the parties is dissatisfied with the outcome of the judge’s decision does not give him or her the right to automatically appeal it.
Conversely, a custody modification does not follow a strict timeline. Generally speaking, litigants seek modifications after significant time has lapsed since the original judgment was handed down. That’s because it takes the passage of time for children to outgrow their former custodial agreements.
But that doesn’t preclude a parent petitioning the court for a modification sooner rather than later if something critical occurred to affect the lives of either parent or the children that would make the present arrangements no longer feasible.
Grounds for modifications
One example could be a major change in the custodial parent’s employment situation. For example, if the mother got laid off from her 9 to 5 cashiering job at the local Walmart and took a job with Amtrak as an on-board service attendant, she would be riding the rails three or four days at a stretch and could no longer supervise the minor children as before.
In the above hypothetical situation, either parent would have grounds to petition the court for a change in the custody agreement to reflect the changes in the mother’s employment status. If the father’s own job duties compromise his ability to assume custody, mediation may be necessary to arrange for an alternative guardian to step in when either parent is unavailable.
Your family law attorney can review your options and discuss the feasibility of petitioning for a child custody modification in the New Jersey family courts.